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Bonus Content: GPS Solutions Lead the Way to Lower Fuel Costs

By D. Douglas Graham

Gas prices have come down, but they’re still through the roof compared to where they were a decade ago. Meanwhile, the search is on for effective means to use less fossil fuel, pay less for it, or develop petroleum substitutes.

Nothing new there. The cost of crude in the United States has trended upward since the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s, dipping slightly at certain points, but always finding its way back up.  Anyone old enough to recall the late 1960’s gas wars, when a gallon of petrol averaged $.20 or so in some regions of the country, will likewise remember shock and awe upon seeing that figure triple by 1974.  Of course, by today’s standard, gas for 40 cents short of a $1 per gallon seems silly cheap. Back then, though, it was cause for myocardial infarction.

As government and industry spin endlessly on how they’re fixing all this, the weekly price of a round-trip California commute fluctuates around $100. Square that, add $25, and then multiply a few times and you get a feel for what some distributors pay to gas up their delivery fleets. Is there a cure for wholesaler fuel guzzling? Yes, when it mixes technology with practicality. In fact, the market offers a number of affordable solutions in this area, but it’s up to individual companies to find the issues on which they should focus.

Tracking for Savings
“In recent years there’s been an incredible increase in GPS and tracking software deployment,” said Mike Jarvinen, vice president of marketing, Teletrac (tetetrac.com), a provider of GPS tracking and fleet automation software. “Companies employing them trim fuel use by an average of 20% to 25%. Up to 20% of companies with fleets numbering 10 vehicles or more now use GPS. The fact is, you put yourself at a competitive disadvantage without this technology.”

The technology popularly known as GPS provides location and time data via a satellite network. Once almost exclusively deployed in ship navigation and military applications, GPS is now available to anyone who buys the equipment and pays for its use on a subscription basis.

“The GPS concept is all about real-time location,” explained Myron Hammes, president and owner of GPS Fleet Management (gpsfleetmanagement.biz), a provider of location solutions for commercial businesses. “The advanced GPS systems in service today guide delivery drivers to their destinations via the most efficient route possible, resulting in greater accountability and better customer service.”

GPS, Etc.
Advanced tracking solutions are enhanced with a suite of related software programs that monitor mileage, fuel level, and other relevant metrics such as idling time—which is quite possibly the most ravenous gas-guzzler of all, especially in winter when fuel is channeled to the cab heating system. Though inevitable in some circumstances, idling should be kept to an absolute minimum, and the bad driving habits encouraging it strongly discouraged (the practice, for example, of kicking back for a coffee break in a parked vehicle as its engine chugs gas better burned on the road).

Location technology and corollary software are also preventative medicine as they offer insight into problems in the making with the potential to loom large later on. A few distributors still turn a blind eye to speeding, as it is thought a more efficient way to put goods in the hands of customers. New data belies this myth, proving that speeding and other “harsh driving behaviors” spike gas use. Tracking systems cued for speeding alert a driver when the speed limit programmed into his or her system is unacceptably exceeded. Other tracking technologies monitor miles vs. service and prognosticate when service is due based on that metric. The dividends paid by such systems are less garage time, more travel time, and, of course, less fuel burned while on the road.

“Just knowing the equipment is installed reduces the temptation on the part of drivers to waste time or engage in speeding and other destructive behaviors that cost much more than they’re worth,” noted Zachary Gerin, marketing and IT director for P.M. Industrial Supply (pmindustrial.com), an industrial supplier of cutting tools, abrasives, and other supplies. “Our drivers think twice about stopping for cigarettes or visiting their girlfriends while making deliveries. This has made them better employees and the company less wasteful in a critical area.”

An ED Cashes In on GPS
Headquartered in East Dubuque, Ill., Crescent Electric Supply is an electrical distributor with 130 locations. Back in 2009, the company installed GPSs in its fleet of 300 delivery vehicles hoping to cast the spotlight on undiscovered areas of wastefulness.

The technology revealed, among other things, the typical driver abuses: taking the scenic route en lieu of the one most efficient, making prolonged unauthorized stops, excessive idling, and speeding. It also shaved miles from traditional delivery routes by suggesting others more time- and gas-friendly. GPS proved a good tool for customer relations as well, as it provided delivery notification five minutes before arrival. Vehicles also spent less time in the garage thanks to data comparing mileage amassed to scheduled service times.

 “GPS should not be viewed as a miracle cure,” said Purchasing and Logistics Director Randy Rhoades. “But the benefits of GPS are real, and greatest of all is its positive impact on human behavior. It’s incumbent on employees to defend the assets of the company in which they have a stake. GPS presents an opportunity for a good employee to do even better.”

Graham is a St. Louis-based freelance writer. Reach him at 314-394-0371.

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